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Understanding Climate Change on the Tibetan Plateau: Climate Data and Community Knowledge

June 24, 2021
11:00 AM - 12:30 PM
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Zoom Webinar

The Tibetan Plateau spans more than one million square miles at the center of Eurasia with an average elevation of over 12,000 feet - by far the most extensive high-altitude region on Earth. Resulting from the collision of continental plates more than 50 million years ago, the Tibetan Plateau continues to play a major role in determining the climate that we experience today. More recently, the Tibetan Plateau has seen more significant warming than surrounding regions due to its higher altitude. As such, Tibetan communities are at the forefront of experiencing the impacts of climate change and their knowledge of such changes may contribute to better understanding the effects of a changing climate on this most significant region. 

This round table brings together social science researchers working with Tibetan pastoralist communities on the Tibetan Plateau and climate scientists who have worked in the Himalayas and Asia to discuss how interdisciplinary approaches might enrich understandings of climate change on the Tibetan Plateau and contribute to our knowledge of global climate change.


Emily Yeh is a professor in the Geography Department at the University of Colorado Boulder and currently president-elect of the American Association of Geographers. She conducts research on development and nature-society relations in Tibetan parts of the PRC, including the political ecology of pastoralism, the intersection of the political economy and cultural politics of development as a project of state territorialization, the relationship between ideologies of nature and nation, and the conjunctural production of environmental subjectivities. She has also conducted interdisciplinary, collaborative research on vulnerability to and indigenous knowledge of climate change amongst pastoralists in Tibet.

Huatse Gyal is an environmental anthropologist at the University of Michigan. His research explores Tibetan pastoralists’ ways of theorizing and relating to their ancestral land. His publications include a co-edited volume in Nomadic Peoples on mass relocation of Tibetan nomads, a peer-reviewed article in Critical Asian Studies, as well as a number of widely-read online academic essays advocating for the interdependent relationship between land, language, and the well-being of people and community in Tibetan and English.

Kelly Hopping is an assistant professor in Human-Environment Systems at Boise State University.  Her interdisciplinary research examines how global change is affecting ecosystems and livelihoods, particularly in pastoral/rangeland systems.  Her work in Tibet has focused on the impacts of climate change from Western scientific and local perspectives, the role of livestock grazing in alpine meadows, and the sustainability of harvesting an economically valuable medicinal fungus (yartsa gunbu) across the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayan region.

Hung Nguyen is a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He uses tree rings to infer changes in the water cycle in the distant past, and apply that knowledge to water resources management. He has reconstructed centuries of discharge history for many rivers in Asia.

Boniface Fosu is a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. One aspect of his research is understanding and modeling the interactions between weather and climate, emphasizing the linkages between extreme weather and human-induced climate change without undermining the role of naturally driven climate variability. Some of his research contributions border on Asia's susceptibility to the impacts of weather and climate extremes, including Tibet.

Brendan Buckley holds the position of Lamont Research Professor, and has been a long-time member of the Tree Ring Lab at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University (LDEO). While he has worked in locations around the globe, Buckley has been one of the pioneers of tropical dendroclimatology, having produced the longest and best replicated records of absolutely dated tree ring sequences from Southeast Asia. Among his most important discoveries were the identification of two key periods of drought that coincided with the two most tumultuous periods of the past millennium over Southeast Asia – the Angkor droughts of the late 14th/early 15th century, and the Strange Parallels Drought of late 18th century, respectively. He continues this important work by using new methods to develop discrete seasonal reconstructions of regional hydroclimate, including measures of the strength of summer and winter monsoons, as well as the “shoulder” seasons that lead into and out of them, over the past millennium. Buckley is a proponent of interdisciplinary research, working with historians, archaeologists, geochemists and atmospheric scientists.

Eveline Washul is Director of the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and Adjunct Professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Columbia University. She received her Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology and Tibetan Studies from Indiana University in 2018. Her research methods combine ethnography with Tibetan historical sources from the 12th to 20th centuries. Her research studies how the particularities of Tibetan relationships to places shape their transition from rural to urban livelihoods in the late-socialist reform period in the People’s Republic of China.

This event is cosponsored by the Weatherhead East Asian Institute and the Modern Tibetan Studies Program at Columbia University.

Contact Information

Athina Fontenot